Analysis | Under Ben-Gvir, Environmental Enforcement Body Will Mainly Fight Against Arabs

The Environmental Protection Ministry’s enforcement agency, the Green Police, will be reassigned to the far-right leader’s newly renamed ‘National Security Ministry,’ which raises fear that it will be used to employ police forces against the Bedouin population in Israel's south

Zafrir Rinat
Zafrir Rinat
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Itamar Ben-Gvir at the President's Residence last week.
Itamar Ben-Gvir at the President's Residence last week.Credit: Oren Ben Hakoon
Zafrir Rinat
Zafrir Rinat

The Green Police is the Environmental Protection Ministry’s primary enforcement agency, which investigates and prosecutes environmental offenders of all kinds. It was the collection of evidence by its personnel, who include 35 inspectors and investigators, that led to indictments in all of the major incidents of environmental contamination in recent years, including those involving the Ashelim Stream and the Evrona Nature Reserve.

The proposed reassignment of the Green Police to the “National Security Ministry,” however, a renamed and puffed up ministry which is the result of an agreement between the Likud and Otzma Yehudit parties, has raised fears that the unit will be used to employ police forces against the Bedouin population in Israel’s south.

Otzma Yehudit party leader and incoming National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, for whom the position was expanded and renamed, has repeatedly said that he intends to return governance to the south using police forces.

Various sources estimate that the move may weaken the Green Police’s ability to deter the perpetrators of environmental crimes.

“The people who set the agenda of the Green Police will no longer be environmental experts. It will be decided by a ministry whose agenda is different,” said one official involved in environmental enforcement. “Will this ministry hire environmental experts and become another Environmental Protection Ministry? And then who will decide enforcement policy on these issues?”

“What is clear is that the Environmental Protection Ministry will not have powers when it comes to criminal enforcement,” the official said. According to him, the move is expected to lead to fatal harm and the desecration of the environment in Israel.

Outgoing Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg shares these concerns. “I am afraid that instead of fighting pollution and protecting open spaces, the National Security Ministry will mainly fight against Arabs,” she told Haaretz.

The Green Police may find itself working against illegal waste sites in Bedouin villages and settlements, and in fact provides a reason for other police bodies to use enforcement measures such as demolishing buildings. In such a situation, enforcement activities that until now have been separated from each other, may occur simultaneously.

Attorney Amit Bracha, executive director of environmental group Adam Teva V’Din and an expert in environment protection by judicial means said the move “will completely dismantle the professional rationale on which the Green Police are based, which is to provide a response when it comes to enforcing the laws that are under the purview of the Environmental Protection Ministry.”

That ministry, Bracha added, and its minister “know better than anyone else the environmental priorities and issues requiring criminal enforcement. Subordinating the Green Police to the authority of the National Security Ministry could lead to its becoming a regular policing agency, while in fact it needs an expansion of its powers in the realm of the environment, under the Environmental Protection Minister. That’s what advanced countries worldwide are doing.”

Green Police inspectors have the authority to levy fines, and in recent years by drones that have significantly upgraded their ability to detect damage to the environment. One of the most important aspects of this agency’s work is to locate and confiscate vehicles that were involved in environmental offenses.

The force’s proposed reassignment to the National Security Ministry would diminish its ability to deter offenses such as illegal waste dumping. There is a big question over whether the Green Police will be able to continue to function in the ministry to which they are to be transferred.

The Environmental Protection Ministry’s legal department complements the work of the Green Police. This cooperation is necessary to handle environmental enforcement based on professional considerations mostly without pressures brought to bear by other ministries. The Israel Police have realized this, and so instead of bringing the Green Police into the Israel Police, they reinforce the green police with their personnel, who help in its work under the supervision of experts from the Environmental Protection Ministry.

Some experts and environmental activists have criticized the efficacy of current enforcement by the Green Police. But the criticism is not directed at the work of the Green Police itself, but mainly toward the government, which withholds funding and the human resources required to improve its enforcement ability.

However, even if under Ben-Gvir’s tenure the body receives a budget increase, it is very doubtful that it will be directed toward the enforcement of environmental protection measures.

In fact, the move may actually implement the intention of various figures in the government and industry who seek to weaken environmental regulation in Israel. Initiatives to weaken such regulation have been underway for several years, and these individuals have worked to do so on the grounds that it constitutes a bureaucratic burden for businesses.

The inability of the Environmental Protection Ministry to enforce the law will certainly impact the ability to apply regulations that government officials are trying to negate.

The main beneficiaries will be those who environmental laws cheap, who try to get around them or ignore them entirely. They know that the likelihood of visits by Green Police inspectors would be less frequent from then on.

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